English Hymnbook Celebrates 20th Anniversary
September 2005

“English Hymnbook Celebrates 20th Anniversary,” Ensign, Sept. 2005, 75–76

English Hymnbook Celebrates 20th Anniversary

A full 170 years after Emma Smith’s original collection of hymns was published as A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints, members of the Church worldwide are now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1985 English edition of Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The 1985 edition, which includes 341 hymns, was created with the knowledge that it would serve as a prototype for new hymnbooks to be printed in other languages.

The First Presidency Preface to the 1985 hymnbook says, “All [hymns] have been selected to meet the varied needs of today’s worldwide Church membership” (Hymns, ix).

Many of the hymns in the 1985 edition have been translated into 21 languages, and additional translations continue.

When Latter-day Saint hymns are first translated into a new language, the collection includes 35 hymns and 10 children’s songs. After membership within a language group grows sufficiently, a new hymnbook is translated that includes 107 songs that are standard in every language, a choice of 50 additional hymns that are recommended, and 50 more hymns that are chosen by a committee for each language.

While finding translators with experience in music is difficult at times, Michael Moody, chairman of the General Music Committee, said the consistency of the hymns included in each language is faith promoting.

“One of the beauties of the Church is that we are united,” Brother Moody said. “It’s marvelous to know that the same messages and music are used worldwide.”

The Hymnbook Executive Committee, the group that chose the hymns for the hymnbook, was called in the early 1980s. The committee was made up of musicians, historians, music editors, and text specialists, and there were also several subcommittees and research groups that contributed to the creation of the hymnbook.

Among those who participated in the research groups were youth and other members who sang, played, and listened to selected hymns and gave feedback.

The selection committee listened earnestly to feedback and sought to make proper choices, and the Lord’s direct guidance was clearly evident.

Twenty years ago, Brother Moody was invited to attend a meeting in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square for mission presidents. During the meeting, missionaries from the Missionary Training Center marched in singing “Called to Serve” (Hymns, no. 249).

The mood in the building was electric, and although it was late in the selection process, the committee “knew [that hymn] had to go in,” Brother Moody said. The hymn became the last one included in the 1985 edition.

While the 1985 edition of the hymnbook includes 26 hymns that were also in Emma Smith’s original, 92 of the hymns in the 1985 edition were new. Of that total, 44 were new Latter-day Saint compositions.

In addition to the hymns, the 1985 edition also includes a section titled “Using the Hymnbook” that gives guidance to beginning music directors, instructs how to use hymns for choirs, and offers advice in selecting the right hymn for Church meetings.

Brother Moody said that while the committee was selecting hymns that were memorable, it also strived to choose hymns that would be useful to all members—regardless of musical talent.

The First Presidency Preface in the 1985 edition concludes by saying, “Brothers and sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives. Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, ‘and it shall be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads’” (Hymns, x).

Since it was published 20 years ago, Hymns has served as the foundation for hymnbooks in 21 languages.

Hymnbooks have been a part of the Church since Emma Smith was commanded to compile one in 1835. (© 1998 IRI.)